Sunday, December 26, 2010


Pointless play explication of the Meaning of Art in a photograph:

Daffron's newest work exemplifies a continuing interest in dualism.  The bridge divides shore from shore, a common symbol of the River Styx limbo of the voyage between the here and the hereafter, or perhaps a reference to the scales of good and evil, and the hope of keeping them in balance, the inherent connection between those two extreme shores.  After all the fairy tales of trolls under bridges, we would be wise to consider the dangers of bridges.

But the simplicity of a standard religious doctrine is undercut by the shadowy reflection of the limbo bridge in the water underneath.  The suggestion of a false world hints that either reality, or the religion of our consensus reality or philosophical judgements, is in fact just an illusion, a dream, a pale shimmering reflection of something not clearly seen and not touchable or 3-dimensional, but merely wet, a sad, 2-dimensional recipe for drowning in the icy shallows. 

So Daffron's play with the idea of dualism include not just the division into two, but the idea that divisions of two necessarily include Lewis Carroll's through-the-looking-glass flip side, and so inverts the notion of dualism.  That everything is reduced to two is thereby meaningless, as the two always includes the two sides of reflection, and so are reduced to not less than four, perhaps advocating pluralism, or perhaps monoism, that we are all part of one larger whole, the full printed picture inclusive of opposite but identical mirror images.

Material and mental, good and evil, the sides of reflection merge together to create meaning beyond the seemingly simple work.

OK, enough faulty logic, destruction of philosophy, and pompous crap.  It's amazing how easy it is to go on and on and say absolutely nothing, so long as it sounds important.

The real story: I was walking around on Christmas day with my camera, and there were some ducks swimming in the creek.  I took a LOT of duck pictures, but it turns out, I thought this one was kind of pretty, even though it doesn't have ducks. I do tend to like reflections, slightly off symmetry and water.  Who knows what the deep meaning is for that. 

Dualism, the actual definition:

du·al·ism   /ˈduəˌlɪzəm, ˈdyu-/ [doo-uh-liz-uhm, dyoo-]

1.the state of being dual or consisting of two parts; division into two.
a.the view that there are just two mutually irreducible substances. Compare monism, pluralism.
b.the view that substances are either material or mental.
a.the doctrine that there are two independent divine beings or eternal principles, one good and the other evil.
b.the belief that a human being embodies two parts, as body and soul.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Home is where the art is...

I drove through my childhood neighborhood today, on the way to catch up with a friend I've known since kindergarten.  Just beyond Western Market -- the first store I was allow to walk to on my own, and where I first purchased a gift for my mother (Reese's peanut butter cups) -- I turned off onto the street with a favorite area landmark: the Mushroom House.

All swooping lines and precious few right angles, the Mushroom House suggests a hobbit home or burrow entrance to some magical land. 

I love it. 

Underneath that stucco is a traditional 1940s colonial.  The remodel happened some time in the avant-garde 70s, shortly before my family moved into the otherwise traditional neighborhood and after the gas lines started getting long, inspiring a wave of energy conservation remodeling.  Stucco insulates phenomenally well. 

That stucco has changed color over the years.  I remember a beige tan, its original, decidedly mushroom-y color.  For a while, it was a slightly awful pinkish hue (although that was better than the aged beige, which briefly looked as it was molting).  Now the stucco has a smooth blueish tinge. 

In junior high school, I became passing friends with the owners' daughter, a reserved girl with whom I remember playing badminton in gym class.  I have to say, it took a minute for me to think of her as someone other than The Girl Who Lives in a Mushroom.  Not only was she a year older, but she had Mushroom House glamour; who wouldn't be starstruck? The family was interviewed on TV discussing the renovation (there's an indoor pond and lots of wood paneling).  That was before everyone and their cat was on television.  The association with fame (beyond the usual DC madness of too many politicians - they hardly counted, especially given that one of them was my father's boss) thrilled me.  This was before a local TV anchor moved in down the street in high school. 

The Mushroom House was my first taste of functional, fun and flamboyant art.  All these years later, it still makes me smile, and I thank those neighbors for that. 

A quick googling of the daughter suggests that she may have become an actor.  I have, of course, no idea how her life was influenced by the arty remodeling choice of her arty parents; probably neither does she.  Your house is your house.  But in a small neighborhood way, I suspect she enjoyed the advantages and pitfalls of fame.  As she went on to pursue acting and art, there is an implied validation of the value in bold art.  Go big or go home, as they say.  Or in this case, go big in your home.  Some neighbors may grumble (as they did then) about property values and insufficient "blending" with the neighborhood aesthetic.  Me, I couldn't be happier that they chose my street to make something that people still slow down to see.  That people actually see, don't just breeze on by. 

Even today, 30+ years after the remodel, when I got out of my car to take a picture, I looked over to see a guy in an SUV, mouth hanging slightly open in surprise, focusing his camera at the Mushroom House as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recommended: Golden Boy by Clifford Odets at Church Street Theater

I saw Golden Boy by Clifford Odets, presented by Keegan Theatre, at the Church Street Theater last night.  And I loved it.  I haven't seen much live theater recently, and was reminded how much the energy and emotion of the players make a scene come alive.  Live theater is more visceral, living and breathing, particularly (as was the case last night) when the acting is good.   

The play was not what I was expecting in some ways. From a brief review/synopsis read before the show, I was thinking it was going to be more of a period piece, late 30s sensibility, and an uncomplicated good/evil story. The story centers around Joe Bonaparte, a young violinist who embarks on a boxing career, thereby endangering his relationship with music given the high risk of hand injury from the sport.

The 1930s were present, in language, sets and costumes.  You don't hear a lot of people refer to women as dames in 2010, or to the golden year of 1928 before the crash. The sets, wonderful contraptions were rolled around in a rush of NYC activity to create another sets, included the quintessential wooden private detective desk chair, among other classic pieces.  Heels were wide, dresses long, hats mandatory for men out on the town. 

But beyond that period atmosphere, a much more complicated story unfolded as the protaganist, Joe Bonaparte, fought to find a place where he felt he fit, and the people around him sought to influence his choices for their own reasons.  I'm not going to go into a whole analysis of the themes, but suffice it to say, ambition, idealism, love, marriage, art v. business, fame, comfort, money, competition, despair, health and the finality of some choices are all wound into those 2 hours and 45 minutes.  While the ending is inevitable, the path there is rich with complexities.  

The play only runs through Dec 19th, so go see it quickly.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Artful Mistakes Mascot

You're morose without a new infusion of ugly mobile art, aren't you? You need a lift on this rainy day, just a little weird to get you through the day. I have the answer for you...

Introducing wild & wiry Wilhelmina, the new Artful Mistakes mascot.

Not unlike her creator, her head is a bit transparent, her hair unruly, and her innards colorful and disorganized. Occasionally, she falls apart, but she's relatively easy to reassemble, although it's never ends up being quite the same configuration.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

criticism and art

In graduate school, during my "closing conversation" (thesis defense), one professor who had not once commented on any of the drafts of my novella suggested there, on my last day in graduate school, that I delete the first 100 pages of the book. 

That's about when, embarrassingly enough, I started to cry. To this day, that remains one of the more humiliating experiences of my life so far (and there have been many), sitting with my throat closing up in a small room with four professors, two of them, after that, desperately trying to shore up my sad, deflated little ego. 

Art is freeing, liberating, wondrous, expansive, simply fun.  It also, like any interaction with the world, makes you vulnerable when you let the world in on it.  You pour your soul out, and someone, off the cuff, says, eh, not my thing, she could do better, boring, yawn, bleh, pedestrian, unoriginal, poorly executed, off-key, too light, too dark, too rigid, too unstructured, too serious, too abstract, too little or too much whatever.  Or they move on to grandiose commentaries your character and moral fiber (for a zippy example of that, check out Not Fan Mail).  Even minor comments can feel very, very major when people are sticking pins in your baby.

The thing is: it's easy.  I've been the executioner as well.  To this day, I feel bad about telling someone in a workshop ten years ago to make his character "less of an asshole."  To me, his character was aggressively an asshole - he hated women with a disturbing venom and kicked a cat in the story.  But what I didn't know was that there was this whole back history to that character that the author knew (and hadn't included) that made him infinitely more palatable and sympathetic.  Rejection of a character can feel much like rejection of self, a hard place to go.  And sometimes, simply trying to identify your own tastes can lead you into uninformed criticism of other people's work.

When I think about my closing conversation in graduate school, I think sometimes maybe it was karma, that my thoughtlessly worded comment years before was coming back to haunt me.  I hope that guy kept on writing, but I know he missed a lot more classes in that workshop after that piece.  I know that my writing stalled for many years after graduate school and that I still haven't finished the book that evolved from that novella.  I can't and don't blame that one one day or one comment, anymore than I think my one comment could completely kill off a desire to write, but when I hear critical voices in my head, the nasty kind that cramp your creativity, that professor's voice is certainly there among the others. 

This part of art, of putting yourself out there, is something all artists struggle with, some of us more than others.  A lot of life is, essentially, confidence, and confidence (oddly) has little relationship with talent. There are fantastic artists hidden out there because they crumble in the face of comparatively mild comments.  There are others who plug onward in the face of harsh criticism that dissuades them not one bit.  Any press is good press, they say, and move on. The Goldilocks path is to perhaps be able to select the useful information that echos what you already know about the strengths and weaknesses of your work and clarifies it.  Most criticism is not constructive, but even random comments have kernels of usefulness if we can get over the pinpricks of discomfort.

The rule of thumb they tell you in graduate school is you need to send a story out 100 times before publication.  Like looking for work, there is an element that is strictly a numbers game, that your story or resume lands on someone's desk at the right time.  If you're writing about baseball the day he gets tickets to the World Series, well then, you're more interesting. If you're writing about a conflicted drug dealer with a heart of gold the day his son gets shot by Captain Cocaine, your reviewer's reading will likely be less sympathetic. 

In the end, it's a crap shoot.  You put things out, you edit, you repaint, you redesign, and eventually you let go and say, well, it's good enough for right now.  The painting gets signed and goes on the wall, the story goes in the mail, you say, go ahead, accept me, reject me, flay me out whatever way you want.  Or at least, that is what I am trying to tell myself, as I go back to old work and say, huh, having only sent out a handful of stories a handful of times, maybe it's time to invest in the editing, invest in the stamps, start working the numbers and seeing what I can make happen.  I'll stall out again, I'm sure.  But I'm also sure I'll get up and get moving again.  Color me Goldilocks.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Victoria Vox at Iota

Victoria Vox, ah, I have to say, you were my favorite.  She plays the ukulele.  Really.  Fine, I'll put in a bad picture:

And she pairs it with a cello.  And then she sings with this lovely whole full voice and is bizarrely successful in also singing the sound of a trumpet player.  No electronics, no loops, just singing like a trumpet - as my friend asked, "How do you figure out you have that skill?" 

And Vox writes songs about (this makes me ridiculously happy just writing it) sexually frustrated tugboats that want to get it on with an ocean liner.  I'm not making it up:  And yes, the video features the trumpet singing.

She also has her own holiday songs, including "Surfing Santa," because she got tired of hearing the same things over and over and over again.  I admire the sentiment, although my grinch tendencies limit my enthusiasm for holiday music. 

Victoria Vox is a member of 1% for the Planet and donates 1% of all sales to non-profits for the Earth, so you can feel extra socially conscious and virtuous if you buy her album and listen to "Mother Nature." 

Of course, you might have also have fun if you order the "Uke Can Squeeze This" Vox panties. 

Despite the fact that by the tail end of the evening, I was clearly not all there (woohoo! fever setting in! love those December colds!  And overuse of exclamation points!)(!), Victoria seemed extremely polished to me. Wish I had made it to the end of the show, but disease overtook me and I departed.

And now, me and my fistful of Kleenex are going to collapse. 

p.s. I want to learn to play the cello.  Such a beautiful instrument.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Junip w/ Lost in the Trees at the Black Cat

Gonzalez & guitar

Junip, the trio (and for this show, 5-some; extra 2 unidentified) of Jose Gonzalez, Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkorn, played a solid, if oddly predictable show on Tuesday night at the Black Cat.  As the ten year old group has spent most of their time sidetracked from the group (Gonzalez with his solo work, Araya and Winterkorn with other art and life projects), they were working with one album of Junip music.  It featured Gonzalez' syncopated guitar work, as technically adept as you would expect.  "Black Refuge" added eerier tones.  "Always" was the crowd pleaser that everyone knew.  Crowds were happy and bopping, swaying to the trancey repetition inherent in the music. 

But here's my confession: I had more fun watching Lost in the Trees, the opening act.  With two cellos, a fiddle, a tuba, a French horn and an accordian, along with more traditional folk-y instruments like a guitar and a bass guitar, they were visually more arresting and musically more varied.  The symphonic strings added a depth to musical arrangement that soared for me.

Sometimes, going in blind is the way to go, the surprise can catch you open and unaware. And the enthusiasm of Lost in the Trees was contagious...the last song they played, they marched down into the audience and set up in the middle of us.  It's hard not to feel kinship with the band when the bongo player is sitting six inches away from you in socks, shoeless and jamming. 

Clearly, I have no clue how to use my new camera in a club setting yet.  I'll work on it...


Lost in the Trees:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Church for Sale, Dump Closed on Thanksgiving

For those who want to live like Arlo Guthrie's Alice, Ray and Fasha there IS a church for sale on Capitol Hill.  Be sure to ask about pew removal...

"Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog. And livin' in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin' all that room, seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't have to take out their garbage for a long time.

We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump.

Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the dump saying, 'Closed on Thanksgiving.' And we had never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage."

Excerpted from "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie.  Complete lyrics available at

Remember, you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant (excepting Alice).  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade

Some shots (using new camera, Nikon S570) of the parade...


"You've dressed me up and
dragged me to a parade.
You are no longer my master."

Cheerleaders rockin' it.

Tilting penguin

Joy in motion


I'd run too if I were being followed by that large a toy soldier.

The beauty queens couldn't be more thrilled
to be involved in the parade.

 The Great Pyrenees and their
devoted people.

Marching bands abound...

Happy dancers and (lower-right) the not-so-happy family.

Yes, the big man is in Maryland now.

Heading home, single-file, following the lovely girls.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shannon McNally & Hot Sauce and Scrapomatic at Iota

I returned to the Iota for Shannon McNally & Hot Sauce, a band of Mississippi folks (natives and transplants) and one Arkansas boy.  We stayed on for Scrapomatic, a duo +1 from Minneapolis with some groovy vocal hops, skips, jumps and harmonies.  Great show, only slightly marred by annoying drunk guy at the end of Scrapomatic (note to drunks: if you're grooving on the music, feel free to sway, but please don't yell. Their music rocks. Your silence is golden.). 

Shannon McNally was one of many female vocalists on a music compilation CD provided to me by a friend for a road trip, and was one (of many on that CD) that I picked out as a particular favorite.  McNally's voice is husky and twangy, somewhere between blues and country, full, not thin or wispy.  She's got some grit to her.  And she can, as my friend pointed out, "really wail on that guitar."  Yup.  Backing her up, the uber talented Hot Sauce, Jake Fussell on the bass (in my mind, "the groovin' guy in the hat"), Eric Deaton on guitar ("long-haired dude with crazy fast fingers"), Wallace Lester on drums ("dude who makes weird expressions, including rolling his eyes") and someone who may remain The Nameless Guy from Arkansas on the guitar/mandolin/fiddle/everything ("earnest and multitalented young-un with a great head bob").  They played, I am pleased to say, a couple of songs I actualy knew, since I'd listened to the CD and done a little poking around before the show, including "The Worst Part of  Broken Heart" and "Jack B Nimble."  "My True Possession" and "High" (which she introduced as "not about smoking pot, no matter what you might have heard") gave a taste of the new album out in January, Western Ballad. But there played some wayback songs too, including ending with "Bolder than Paradise" off the first album, Jukebox Sparrows. 

The song I'm most obsessed with that the moment though is "I Don't Wanna Know," a cover of the Bobby Charles song.  A great heartbreaker: "Please don't make me go/to New Orleans no more/ Because I am so afraid/ I might see his face/ and that I couldn't take." She nailed the longing right on.  Bobby Charles passed away last January.  You may know him as the songwriter who penned, "See You Later, Alligator."

And then Scrapomatic, who immediately won my favor by announcing that they were the "most polite band," which, given the Minnesota influence, is not surprising.  After the next song, they thought perhaps they might storm a record producer's office, which was perhaps less polite, but funny.  Mike Mattison has a voice that just grabs you, totally original, breathy to scat, unexpected up and down ranges, clapping and inviting you in. Paul Olsen zips around that voice with his own tenor and guitar, fluid and fun.  Hip-swinging blues tunes that will make you smile or cry or both.  Can't say you hear a lot of songs about a double murderer either

Of other minor note, we inadvertently managed to sit in the musicians section (oops).  Nobody kicked us off the bench, but we kept getting smiling looks from Shannon as The Next Band Up.  I think she was amused.

So.  The quest into music, and into the art world at large, continues.  Rock on.  More music on tap for next week, assuming I get myself organized on details like tickets, etc.  I'm unlikely to ever be able to provide great insight into musical talents and trends, musical theory, etc., but it feels good to be out in the world, sucking in some art, basking in melody and passion.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Riley's Lock, C&O

Recently, Sundays have become my museum day, where I get up lazily and then finally motivate to bond with Art by afternoon.  No museum last weekend though.  Or perhaps, a personal one, not an official one.  I drove down River Road until it ends, and then took a left and another left until I got to nostalgia-land: Riley's Lock, C&O canal. 

In high school, I remember jumping off this bridge (before part of it crumbled away) and swimming one night, paddling in the sultry dark.  The water was much higher (and cleaner, I like to think), as I remember when I came up for air, a friend pointed out that pipe, noting that I'd missed landing on it by the matter of about a foot.  We swam and sat around a fire and drank beer, peaceful as could be, chatting up some people who were camping there overnight.  We were probably missing all kinds of permits and permissions, if any of that was even allowed, but no one seemed to care and we didn't cause any harm. 

My favorite kind of light, the last gasps of the day, that turns everything red in the face of the setting sun. 

It was one gorgeous sunset. 

Reflections of the sky turned the water pink. 

Twas a day to revist the past and check the signposts.  To revel in beauty, the clarity of solitude, quiet places and lapping water, rivers that still flow through me, to remember good company and look forward to future warmth, all added up to a day well spent.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Loïs Mailou Jones at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

The first Sunday of every month is community day at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which means (woohoo!) it's free to get in.  So that's what I did last Sunday.  I'd wandered into the museum once years ago, and had then much the same impression of it that I had this time around: it's a LOT of space, marble and chandeliers, that seems just a bit empty, echo-y.  They are doing their best to liven things up, and now run a brunch on Sundays (the remains of which looked quite tasty with the last lingering diners still scattered about) and later, had in some dancers who did an exhibition of Brazilian dance.  Great drums, although I seemed to keep missing seeing the actual dancing, as each time I came out away from the paintings to look, the dance was just ending and discussion ensuing. 

The highlight of the day, by far, was the exhibit, "Loïs Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color."  Photography not allowed in the exhibit (only in regular collection), so none of my own photos.  I lifted these from google to give you an idea.


"Mere du Senegal"
Jacqueline Trescott, cultural reporter for The Washington Post, had this to say about Mailou Jones and her work:

Mailou Jones's great gift was transporting the viewer into the daily lives of her subjects. Her work was colorful, soaked with the shades of skin, sunshine, textiles, fruit and other objects of art. When she did a mask, the eyes moved with you. When she showed an African American girl cleaning fish, the strokes were rhythmic.
Mailou Jones taught at Howard University for 47 years. She had plenty of lessons to share, not only about technique, but about fighting for acceptance in the white art world. Despite rejections and racism, she pursued her own path and is considered a forerunner of several black art movements. She was the first African American to have a solo show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in 1973. Jones, who died in 1998 at 92, is represented in many major museums and collections.
Full Post article, click here.

For more info on Mailou Jones, check out

Capitol Hill Books

Now this is what a bookstore should look like:

Overflowing.  Abundant.  But organized too. And a wee bit quirky.  By the door, they have a sign saying "J.D. Salinger reading tonight!" with "Canceled" in big red letters over it.  Literary humor.     

I stopped in Capitol Hill Books last weekend after brunch with a friend and felt better about humanity.  Food, friends and poetry.  Good living.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Portrait of Maud Dale by Fernand Léger

I went to the see the Chester Dale collection at the National Gallery of Art a few weeks ago.  Much amazing art. I fell in love with this portrait of Chester Dale's wife Maud painted by Fernand Léger.

Uncool musical memories

Over the last year or so, I've received three infusions of music from friends, largely music for road trips (mine, theirs or ours), which has led me to realize that despite having historically hung out with musicians, music junkies and music snobs (or combinations thereof), I myself tend to listen to whatever music falls from the sky. I always have music playing in the car (partly to avoid actually learning anything factual or concrete on NPR), but it's most often random radio. So I know all the words to some Lady Gaga songs (hard to avoid right now) and am sometimes caught car dancing at stoplights. But I don't follow bands, don't explore much, don't pursue music that interests me, and seldom see it performed live.  Mostly, I just hope the good stuff comes by again.  I find that unpleasantly passive, so on occasion, I've hassled music folks for something New. And they've kindly provided. 

Unfortunately, rather than help me establish my own musical taste, it's mostly just established that I can recognize my friends' musical tastes. Mine remain wildly eclectic and largely situational to the occasion on which I encountered the music.  I'm very clear that I loved the Indigo Girls and Suzanne Vega in 1988 in college, precursors to my affection for Ani DiFranco in my mid 20s, but how much of that was the necessary response to hanging out with my feminist awakening cohort?  True, I still tend to prefer women's voices, but that's largely so that I can warble along with them. I just had a good ole Sheryl Crow sing-a-long when an old friend was in town.   

There's kindly nostalgia for past eras in general, music and memory being intertwined. In college, my roommate liked Modern English. A Boy I Liked liked the Smiths and Depeche Mode.  Everyone had that Cure poster on their dorm wall.  Alternative was in.       

When I was a kid, my mother liked the Beach Boys, and so I had their music, along with many 50s compilation records so as to avoid the horrors of disco ("Disco Duck" - need I say more?).  I actually liked the Beatles over the Beach Boys, but considered them, at eight, roughly the same, which is slightly hard to fathom now.  But maybe here's is the glimmering of personal taste with the fab four: the first cassette tape I purchased, right before boarding school, was the Beatles 'red' album.  But the Beatles got swallowed up in another friend's John Lennon obsession in high school and I lacked that kind of cataloging mind. I am more big picture than memorized minutia, which makes me a lousy audiophile. 

A portion of my musical scattering is related to theft and loss.  All the random tapes a friend gifted me when he went CD only, along with my own collection of mix tapes from high school, were stolen (along with almost everything else I owned) out of my car when I was traveling through New Orleans in 1993 or so.  The collection was never replaced, not even close. There are still tapes that I miss, if only in theory, obscure music from that era that's hard to find, and mixed tapes of sentimental value (the love letters of the late 80s). 

Sometimes, rediscovering can be disappointing.  When I was, oh, five or so, my favorite song was "Delta Dawn" by Helen Reddy.  My parents had it on 8-track (yes, I'm old, thanks for mentioning it).  I finally dug that up on iTunes, as the tune still randomly pops up in my head for shower singing to this day.  And, oh my, it's an awful, awful arrangement, country choral ho-down, and while I still sing it in the shower, I can't stand the country twang.  Tastes change from five years old, I suppose (thankfully, lest we all be singing along with Barney the purple dinosaur). 

But then, my first musical memory is playing my "Joy to the World" 45 by Three Dog Night on my Big-Little portable mono record player over and over and over and over and over again until my mother finally begged me to stop.  Perhaps she was flashing back to my endless requests for the "Itsey Bitsey Spider."  I guess she didn't care that Jeremiah was a Bullfrog and a good friend of mine. 

So there's an aspect of my taste in music: repetition. There are very, very few songs that I latch onto immediately with that ah ha! of happy. I loved Norah Jones' voice the first time I heard it (yes, I know, I'm middle-aged and she's a little cheezy, but really, such a voice, you have to admit). Some blues tunes, perhaps with the built-in comfort of the blues repeat, send me to happy fast, e.g., Guy Davis's "Sometimes I Wish." Plus, that song has just the perfect combo of yearning and resignation, impending grief. Mostly, however, songs just seep into me, bit by bit, and are connected with a good memory, or the 20th time on the radio, it becomes an old friend, or on the right day the right lyric reaches out and grabs me.

I played some classic 70s easy listening on that Big Little record player: The Carpenters and John Denver come to mind ("Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong").  For a long time, I got John Denver and Elton John confused, which also makes my head hurt a little bit now.  Imagine my surprise when I found a Carpenters' song  ("Superstar") remixed into some British electronicy song a music-y person was listening to.  It's like a haunting, ten minutes of going, good heavens, why do I know this?  I remember that band's name, but now I've discovered Sonic Youth covered the song too, in a vaguely creepy pedophile way.  Wow.  Eventually, if you wait long enough, everything is circles back around.     

A lot of my musical reticence boils down to Cool - which is why I've made a point of exposing some seriously unCool memories here, because Cool is a ridiculous concept as a grownup.  But it was not cool among my high school crowd to like the music that everyone else liked (a sort of contradictory moment, if you think about it...I mean, there may be a reason people like the music, although yes, I get that there is a watering down with masses as well).  I can tell you it took me a long time to acquire a taste for hardcore punk rock, the music of Washington, DC in the late 80s.  I managed, but it was not really what I was into, and truth be told, I haven't listened to Minor Threat in a decade or two, and I liked Husker Du's more melodic songs. Sure, I liked Suicidal Tendencies "Institutionalized," but anyone who was a little offbeat in high school did.  (All I wanted was a Pepsi).

With a boarding school friend, I went through my metal phase, glomming onto her musical library and running endless hours around the tiny indoor track listening to the Scorpions, AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult on my Walkman.  Of course, I was also studying to the mellow tones of the very unhip but very soothing James Taylor in the evenings.  I still listen to Cat Stevens. 

I'm talking a lot (and in no particular order) about childhood, high school and early college in terms of memories and tastes, and maybe that's the reality, that we tend to latch onto bands at times in our life where we need the directed passion that music provides.  Hearing someone speak to our longings and rages and goofiness is perhaps most crucial when we're a lot closer to sixteen than I am right now.  But that doesn't mean it's not still important now. And you could make an argument that it's more important now, that holding onto passions makes us more enthusiastic and engaged people.  But I'm arty, so of course I'd say that.  But I mean to make my pursuit of music, and art, more directed and engaged than it has been. 

Enough rambling...If you know of good music, tell me. If you've got a crazy or sweet or bizarre musical memory, feel free to share.  Send me songs. Drag me out to see bands.  Because really, I'm sick of Lady Gaga.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

These United States with Thrift Store Cowboys and Adam Arcuragi and The Lupine Choral Society at the Iota

After the whole long day of the Rally to Restore Sanity and a visit to the Holocaust Museum, you would think we would have collapsed in a heap and gone home.  Nope.  Instead, we continued on as planned to the Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington to see These United States, with Thrift Store Cowboys and Adam Arcuragi and The Lupine Choral Society

I like to say I knew all about TUS, but that would be a big fat lie.  I'd heard their name, perhaps, a DC/Lexington, KY band that been around for a while, an indie roots rock or alt-country kind of sound (they seem to have a variety of different labels, depending on who you ask). As part of my campaign to be less of a musical moron, my plan is to see more music and pay more attention. Starting dead tired with a band that I'd spent zero time listening to may not have been the best approach, but hey, I was out, and swaying with the beat, so it's a start. 

These United States
For a Saturday night on Halloween weekend, it was a surprisingly quiet show, which I can't quite figure out.  These were pretty tight bands, with even the opening band being reasonably solid, although, at a guess, a little starry-eyed about being billed the TUS.  All three bands seemed to know each other well and bleed into each other, with folks going up on stage here and there. I think this was the last night Thrift Store Cowboys and These United States would be together after several months on tour, so there was lots of cross-pollination.  And enthusiasm: the Cowboys' bass player, bounced up and down with alarming and entertaining bounce. I'm not sure it helped him play, but what the hell, twas fine.   

Halloween got its due, particularly from These United States, who played not just "The Monster Mash," but also "Werewolves of London."  Most of the band was in "classy drag" excepting the lead singer, Jesse Elliott, who told the story of how he missed the memo and ended up in a banana suit.  Elliott was extra festive and sweaty; he sang with unabashed enthuasiam and came on down to the dance floor in his banana suit (hmm, that sounds like a euphemism, but isn't).  My friend grooved on hearing "Wooly Bully," and that did actually get the small crowd (including me) actually dancing, not just swaying, so a good hoppin' version, but the song itself leaves me cold.  What can I say, I'm a crank. 

The last song we caught before stomping back to the Metro was a long version of Dylan's "Isis," a song my friend apparently finds irritating. It has many, many verses, which allowed just about everyone to sing a verse, which I think was the point. I found that interesting from a voice perspective, and just watching everyone crowd on stage.  I'm not sure if it's the Iota accoustics, the sound board or the band(s), but I found it very difficult to decipher the words on anything, so mostly, I was running on the melody and tone and giving up on what might be being said.  As a word person, that's really frustrating, and I find I like the music clips I've been thumbing through much more since I can, in the clips, hear what is said. Had I known their music ahead of time, this wouldn't have been as much of an issue...a word to the wise for me, I suppose.  Research.    

If I were a better music person or listener, I'd tell you all about the original songs they'd played, as play them they did.  From scanning through clips, I think "Water and Wheat" from "What Lasts" was on the playlist.  But no guarantees on that. 

Definitely, I loved, loved the steel pedal guitars in TUS and TSC.  They're just fun, warping in and out of different tunings.  And one of the TSC boys even showed up with an accordian.  Yowza. 

Musically, this is a bunch of boys that play everyhing and have no fear..everyone sings, most people play both the guitar and the drums, so everyone was rotating around from seat to seat, band to band, passing another tambourine.  Clearly, they'd spent a lot of time jamming together and were having a ball because, hey, why not?  It's Halloween, after all. 

A good show for which I wish I was more awake, more knowledgeable, and that more people were out, but it's a start.

Rally to Restore Sanity & US Holocaust Memorial Museum

A thought-provoking juxtaposition of events yesterday: first, my friend Brian and I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Anger, the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally on the mall, and then we went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mobs at Metro
The faux rally turned out to be a fairly massive event. Estimates put attendance around 215,000 people (way larger, as many people have pointed out, than the Glenn Beck fest a few weeks back). The Metro was so overwhelmed by the time we reached Takoma at noonish that, after two trains came by that could not possibly accomodate two more passengers, we rode the Metro four stops in the other direction to the end of the line so we could actually get on a train.  We were not alone in this – at Glenmont, the train remained packed. We chatted for a while with a nice family from Fairfield, Iowa, who were in town not for the rally, not for the Marine Corps Marathon the next day, not for any of the other massive events, but for an aunt's 90th birthday party. The logistics of their family gathering was significantly more complex due to Metro delays, but they were taking it in amused stride.

When we finally got downtown, the scene was impressive: a sea of people, many costumed and holding signs. A wave of nostalgia for me: from 4th of July events as a child to protests in high school and college, the mall is the geographic center of my political understanding. I once traveled in a caravan of three vans of many women and one man from Colorado to DC for the huge 1992 March for Women's Lives pro-choice rally. While I'm a much more disaffected political participant these days, I still believe that's my failing as a citizen, that the passion for organizing and demonstrating and letting your voice be heard is vital. When we let our passions wither, part of us dies as well, and our society suffers.
Sea of people
This rally, however faux, brought out many of the folks I consider my people: liberals with a sense of humor. Yes, the crowd was overwhelmingly white, and presumably reflected the demographics of the Stewart/Colbert audience. But how could you not like some of the signs like these?:

"A Cup of Calm the F#ck Down"

"Tea Parties are for Little Girls
and Imaginary Friends"
"All We are Saying is
Give Cheese Some Pants"

"My friends, do not be afraid of people. Luke: 12:4" and
"I couldn't think of anything. I just wanted to be on
the Internets" (wish granted!)

"Get off my Lawn, Hippies!"

"Even My Sign Chooses
Not to Yell"
 And people reacted to the sentiment of the rally. It was a super, super polite crowd. There was no finger-pointing or ranting, except the dynamic on stage with Sanity v. Anger, play anger. I spent a lot of time weaving through the crowds, partly because I almost immediately got separated from my friend, and partly because I was looking to get close enough to hear. I'm not sure anyone expected quite so many people, and the jumbo-trons and speakers didn't reach all of us. But milling around through signs and Halloween costumes, without fail, people said “excuse me” and “pardon me.” No one glared or elbowed me for trying to squeeze by. I didn't see any drunken rage fests. Just folks out with signs listening to some comedy and music on a sunny day in fall.

 Some people were so dedicated that they climbed on top of fences and even the port-o-johns so they could see. 

People on the rooves of Port-o-johns. 
Icky, I say, but dedicated.

Of the events themselves, I can only report on bits of the Stewart/Colbert conversation (“all Muslims aren't terrorists, Steve. There are Muslims that you like and admire.” “Name one!” “Kareem Abdul- Jabbar!” - or something along those lines) and other scatterings gleaned in the crowds. I heard part of a Kid Rock song. I sadly missed the battling appearances between Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne.  Those of you watching at home probably saw more, but I'm glad I was there in the crowd.  

When the events wrapped up at 3pm, and I finally reconnected with my vanished friend, we proceeded to the Holocaust Museum. The mother of our Iowa friends on the Metro had talked about going, and it turned out, Brian had never been, so rather than struggle on the Metro again, off we went.

It had been at least a decade since I had been there. The Holocaust Museum is, obviously, not a place where you go for a lighthearted day, a point they make as they pack you into an elevator to start the exhibit on the 4th floor and say, “We hope you have a meaningful visit.” There is no “nice day!” for genocide. I warned Brian on the intensity level (not that he was expecting sunshine), but it's difficult to convey how affecting the museum will be.

The beginning of the exhibit talks about how Hitler was, at the start, an disgruntled corporeal in the army, a nobody that no one would have predicted to rise to such frightening power. There seemed to be little chance he would such a vile force in such short order. He got there first by way of political maneuvering, until he finally consolidated enough legal power so he could really dig into terror and violence after he was appointed Chancellor in 1933.

And what, largely, did the Nazi party feed on? Rage and racism and fear. Anyone who follows, say, the immigration debates, or the insanity of folks up in arms about, say, homosexual marriage, will recognize many of the tactics of singling out a group upon which to pour all angers and frustrations. Everything becomes a threat to Good Decent People and someone else's fault. In Germany, the Nazis blamed breadlines on the Jews and communists.

The old guard politicians of Germany at the time did not take Hitler seriously until it was too late -- something to consider in our current political climate. No, no, I'm not trying, Colbert-like, to Keep Fear Alive and suggest anyone is the next Hitler. As the Rally to Restore Sanity website points out, "the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles."  That doesn't mean that I'm inclined to agree much with, for instance, the politics of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck though, and I find the museum, like the rally, emphasized the importance of speaking up.

I'm not, as noted, particularly politically knowledgeable, however. I find the political process of manipulating people a creepy exercise riddled with aggravation and overlooked and/or flawed logic, and intensely frustrating. I tend to avoid political conversation as unnecessary conflict for which I am, anyway, ill-armed. I was raised in a household split between the Democratic and Republican parties. Issues were not discussed and hashed out so much as put aside. Disagreement was considered inconvenient disharmony.

What is so profoundly affecting about the Holocaust museum is that it makes a very clear connection between how that political avoidance and apathy allows for the evilly-opportunitistic like Hitler to extract a devastating toll on human lives – the absolute horror of the camps, persecution, death, despair. Hells seemingly unimaginable were instead systematized, a conveyor belt of how best to destroy a culture, demoralize and humiliate and terrorize, and kill with all possible efficiency.

I won't talk about the many, many deeply disturbing stories and photographs and facts on display. It's a hard place to walk through, and an important one.  If you haven't been, go. 

I am going to tell you about where I lost it, both the first time I visited the museum, and again, when I got to that exhibit again yesterday.

The shoes.

There is a room full of shoes worn by concentration camp victims. There is something so human, so ordinary and personal about shoes, worn leather and frayed laces.  Everyone knows the phrase, "if you want to know a man, walk a mile in his shoes."  To see so many empty shoes, knowing that their owners took them off and walked on to their deaths, rippled through me in ways I still can't quite articulate.  There are so many shoes in that room, so many individuals gassed out of existence, and those shoes are but a tiny fraction of the people killed.

It may be another artifact or phrase or photograph will bring it home for you. For me, it was the shoes.

The museum was closing by the time we were leaving, and in fact, many of the last video exhibits, including the videos of survivors, were already turned off on the last floor.

We walked back out into the slanted light of a fall day, and saw the remains of the crowds, people with signs and costumes, now heading off for the Saturday night Halloween parties or to prepare to run the Marine Corps Marathon today or just sit at home with friends and family. We are lucky here, right now, despite our bad economy and other crises, that we can come together, share laughter and commentary, music and merriment and play, that we can be reasonable and yet still, in our numbers, be heard.

So here's my summary of takeaways for the day:

Don't rage. Don't hide. Learn what you can and listen carefully. Pay attention and when you smell bullshit, say, very, very, politely, without rage but with clarity and action, that it is bullshit. Well, maybe use a more polite word.  But you know what I mean. 

Also: go do what I can't do this year in Maryland, having registered too late after my move. Go vote.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --

Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
--Martin Niemöller

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thriller! - Article by my friend Darcy on the Thriller Flashmob.  Dancing zombies make me unreasonably happy. 

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Brief and tardy comments on my visit to "Spleen," created by Oreen Cohen, ART CARGO (Jacqueline Levine), and Sarah Allison, formerly on display in the basement of the Moderno, a condo on U St.  The building was not yet in use, so the realtor connected the artists with the space, allowing for the creation of the large installation sculpture in the basement.  I missed the opening evening, which apparently also included incense and wine, but when I arrived, I was all alone in the basement thrumming with loud clanking music and this unweildly beast:  

The piece is constucted from metal, ceramics, balloons, automotive safety glass, and probably a lot of other odds and ends. I was particularly pleased with how gruesome sweet little balloons could become in the context of intestines.

While I didn't have opportunity to speak with the artists, the real estate connection (whose name I can't recall, alas, but was extremely pleasant) who was manning the door upstairs reported that the artists did indeed suffer for their work, and that even safety glass isn't entirely safe; some blood drops on the floor added to the mood.

Inside the glass portion, you can see there is a TV, pulsing with heartbeat-esque music (the shattered insides of a glass house, perhaps, our translucent souls crumbling - add in your own metaphor). This didn't quite work for me - at heart, I don't want to be a media maven, and TVs are too loaded to be otherwise in my mind.  

But I loved the dripping cave of stalactites, a nice dragon-in-the-lair touch.

The piece conveyed a mood and mixed the gruesome with fanciful (balloons! I love balloons!), not a bad way to start an evening. I proceeded down the street to have a rather tasty margarita, feeling oh-so-arty. 

Posted on the the stairway to the basement, the following poem seemed apt. 

Spleen II

by Charles Baudelaire

When the low heavy sky weighs like a lid
Upon the spirit aching for the light
And all the wide horizon's line is hid
By a black day sadder than any night;

When the changed earth is but a dungeon dank
Where batlike Hope goes blindly fluttering
And, striking wall and roof and mouldered plank,
Bruises his tender head and timid wing;

When like grim prison bars stretch down the thin,
Straight, rigid pillars of the endless rain,
And the dumb throngs of infamous spiders spin
Their meshes in the caverns of the brain,

Suddenly, bells leap forth into the air,
Hurling a hideous uproar to the sky
As 'twere a band of homeless spirits who fare
Through the strange heavens, wailing stubbornly.

And hearses, without drum or instrument,
File slowly through my soul; crushed, sorrowful,
Weeps Hope, and Grief, fierce and omnipotent,
Plants his black banner on my drooping skull.

For more info on the work & artists, see the Project Website at Check out the original sketches of the work - fascinating to see the evolution of The Spleen. 

City Paper's blog review:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sandpoint, ID Art Days - Galleries & Mobile Making

So was I arty and mistakeful on vacation, you ask? Why yes, yes I was. My sister and I managed to make two of my five days in Sandpoint, Idaho, art focused. 

Sandpoint is a small art town in northern Idaho ("the skinny part"), so twas easy to make a day of wandering around galleries. The most varied and lovely work we saw was at Art Works, a cooperative gallery run by local artists selling their wares. Jewelry, pottery, nature photography of the area, watercolors, the lovely if somewhat standard fare of a tourist retail store, but also interesting sculpture made of fired clay, wood and feathers, oil paintings of celestial lovelies, and a number of odds and ends that I was pretty sure I could make (e.g., beaded key chain fobs). 

Sandpoint has a lot of glassworkers, as they used to have a local studio run by the town, now closed sadly, so there was a particularly heavy emphasis on fused glass, jewelry, clocks, plates, etc., in many of the stores. We also poked our heads into a painting studio, which, if I could find her business card again, I would add a plug for, as it was lovely, brightly colored, festive work. I strongly recommend ending any such day by having the baked brie and a glass of wine at the Coldwater Creek Wine Bar. Yum.

Throughout our wanderings, we were busy plotting our own projects.  My sister had recently received five boxes of fabric from my mother, but wasn't feeling the quilting vibe for using some of it that way. And, of course, with my ugly mobile history, it seemed a natural extension to try making some fabric mobile prototypes a few days later. 

My sister is infinitely more organized, so she wasted no time pulling out the fabric, selecting some pieces and quickly cutting shapes, and got me rolling on my own choices.  She then ironed and I pinned shapes so that she could sew them on the treadle sewing machine.  From there, she dug out the grommet tool she'd found at a yard sale (I had tool envy, until we ran into some design flaws, which made it less groovy), and after some failed experimentation, we got her husband signed up for putting grommets in all our shapes so they were easily hung.  

And then there was the wire -- the fun part, in my opinion, particularly since I'm a metal junky.  My sister had a role of electrical fence wiring lying around, which actually worked out well (except it came with somewhat alarming warnings about remembering to wash your hands after use.  It may be coated in something awful). 

What was interesting to me is how different Susie and I approached the random design aspects of mobiles.  She found patterns online and worked to modify those for her needs.  I pulled off a hunk of wire, found a place to hang it off the chandelier, and then connected other pieces willy-nilly, hoping to find balance points with the fabric pieces and lengths of wire. Sometimes, there were failures, and pieces fell off, sections collapsed.  Susie had symmetry; I had random zigzag cheats built into my wire to help shift balances slightly without total reorganization, although in some aesthetic way, I was harboring ideas of a larger balance within the piece.

In any case, an enormous amount of fun. 

And here are the results.  Sadly, pictures don't do them justice, as they remove the movement...

Susie's prototype:

And mine, reassembled in DC - I forgot to photograph it in Sandpoint - so it's totally different than the last time I put it together.

As prototypes, there are, uh, issues, things that we would do differently, from choosing different shapes to finding less cranky grommets, to having cleaner edges and wire shapes, etc. More than that, however, it was a fabulous way to spend a gray day listening to 1980s pop music, singing and playing with wire. Successful art in my book. And perhaps the birth of an industry. You never know.